Friday, June 3, 2011

Goodbye Food Pyramid, Hello MyPlate

First Lady Michelle Obama has been a powerful advocate for ending childhood obesity. Her Let’s Move campaign is aimed at raising a generation of American youth who are healthier and more active than those before them.  While her initiatives are directed at kids, Mrs. Obama’s message is an important one for all of us.

We live in a time when two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. In Baltimore City, 1 in 3 children is overweight. Additionally, 37% of Baltimore City high school students are overweight, compared to 29% of their counterparts in Maryland.

As we all know, obesity is associated with numerous health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. And while sedentary lifestyles play a significant role in the country’s obesity epidemic, so too do poor food choices.

Enter MyPlate. This new tool from the USDA replaces the outdated food pyramid. MyPlate provides a clean visual representation of how our meals should look: half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, with the other half split between grains and protein. Dairy sits in a saucer on the side. This is a far more logical symbol for consumers to make food choices than a pyramid – what could be simpler than a plate?

The old food pyramid primarily instructed consumers to eat a certain number of servings from each food group. However, what constituted a “serving” was not especially easy or convenient for people to figure out. As the First Lady said, "We can't be expected to measure three ounces of chicken or look up a portion size of rice or broccoli." In contrast, MyPlate places a much higher emphasis on portion size and proportion.

It is important to know that MyPlate will not single-handedly end the obesity epidemic – it does not encourage physical activity; explicitly decry slathering vegetables in butter; or address the fact that in many households and restaurants, plates can be the size of small dinner tables. However, news outlets, nutritionists, foodies, and academics agree that MyPlate is a great first step toward educating consumers about smart food choices in a relatable, common-sense way. And just like its predecessor the pyramid, people are encouraged to visit for more in-depth information on nutritional food choices.

If we are to meet the aggressive goals we set in Healthy Baltimore 2015 for combating obesity, we must utilize a variety of approaches to educate and change the behavior of our residents. Common-sense tools such as MyPlate can be an important resource for the average family looking to improve their food choices.

What do you think? How does MyPlate compare to the food pyramid? Do you think it will succeed in getting people to eat healthier?

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